The Portland Timbers have had a great season so far. Certainly not perfect, but from where they were a year ago, it's night and day. That said, FC Dallas has had a much better season so far as they've been sitting at the top of the standings for quite a while. I think at one point they might have been tied on top with the New York Red Bulls, but it was for a short stint. In any case, their current position currently sees them with a whopping 5 point lead over the Timbers. As such, tomorrow's game should definitely be looked upon with an eye toward playing catch up.
Here's the breakdown:
Coming off a decisive 2-nil win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the U.S. Open Cup should be a solid confidence booster, certainly for some fringe players. However, the big news is the return of key national teamers in Donovan Ricketts and Ryan Johnson. Both players should be back in Portland by now considering their international duty is up for this period of World Cup Qualifiers. That said, both Futty Danso and Rodney Wallace remain out on international duty.
So, with the absence of both Wallace and Futty, the issue becomes who will fill their spots. For Futty it shouldn't be too hard to replace him with Pa Modou Kah. The newcomer is slowly becoming more and more solid in his positioning. I would certainly expect to see him start over Rauwshan McKenzie given that McKenzie went 90 minutes against the Rowdies. Andrew Jean-Baptiste also went 90 minutes, but he is younger and more fit to Porter's squad at this point.
As for Rodney Wallace's position, I'm thinking maybe Porter tries to slot Michael Nanchoff in the left attacking forward position. We saw the kind of damage he could do from the midfield playing a similar role so it wouldn't be completely out of the question. Either that or Porter puts Jose Adolfo Valencia in that spot again. Unfortunately, however El Trencito never seemed full effective against the Rowdies from that position.
As for Diego Valeri, despite starting against the Rowdies, he will almost assuredly start against FC Dallas. He was pulled at half time no doubt for this very reason.
Here's my predicted starting lineup:
Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Valeri, Diego Chara; Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson, Michael Nanchoff
FC Dallas is still sitting at the top of the table. I remember during the Timbers last game against the Texan side, some pundits wondered whether FC Dallas was really as strong as they appeared or if it was mostly just a side effect from a favorable early schedule. At this point, I'm likely to believe that they really are a solid squad, though certainly not without their own problems.
Looking at the roster, I believe that the team will continue to be without their star striker Blas Perez. While he didn't play against the United States, due to a case of gastroenteritis, his Panamanian side is still set to play against Costa Rica on Tuesday. So, either he's still unwell and as such not able to play, or he is well and will presumably rejoin his national team. That said, I can't find confirmation of either, so we'll see.
Really though, it matters very little in the long run, as Dallas still features a potent attacking combination in Kenny Cooper, Eric Hassli and Michel. The latter of which earned two assists in their game against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. Certainly not something to scoff at. Hopefully, those guys will be a little worn for tomorrow's match.
The Portland Timbers have the opportunity to earn the fabled "6 points" tomorrow. What that means is they can earn three points against an opponent ahead of them thus negating three points on their end... hence the "6 point" gain. It's just word play really. In any case, it's an important game. Additionally, the Timbers are not only playing catch up against FC Dallas, but also Real Salt Lake who are now 4 points ahead of the Timbers. A win against FC Dallas would bring them back within leaping distance of the Salt Lake team.